Thursday, May 16, 2013

The "Priceless" Value of Retreat

The “Priceless” Value of the Retreat
The CCA Annual Family Retreat is the stand-out event of the year for Children’s Craniofacial Association and for many individuals, the highlight of their year.

For my own family, it became our yearly family vacation.  What a wonderful way to see so many different places across this beautiful nation, stay in expensive hotels at a major discount, have planned meals and activities for the kids and most importantly have a whole weekend to interact and share support with others who know what your family experiences.

The actual cost to CCA to hold this year’s retreat is just about $100,000 which makes it our most expensive program.  Our families have told us that the retreat is the most valuable program we provide, and therefore we work hard to raise the funds to ensure its continuation. Hotels and resorts that once gave us free passes to amusement parks, rent-free ballrooms & complimentary breakfasts are less giving now or have narrowed their scope to just one or two specific causes, since there’s a much larger pool of other children’s groups, causes, nonprofits, churches and charities asking for the same discounts and amenities.

Indeed, that’s not the only thing that has changed in the twenty-three years since the first retreat.  Among others, CCA has grown quite a bit with many more families attending and there’s a much larger age variance in our CCA kids, since a whole generation has reached adulthood and some are themselves parents bringing their own children.

All this makes it exceedingly tougher to find a great place large enough to hold everyone, at a good price, in a fun location. Yet CCA Program Director, Annie Reeves, and her committee keeps the hits coming and once again families will be paying only about half the going rate for the rooms at the Omni Resort in Orlando this June!  The registration fee of $100 per family is a bargain as well.  (That doesn’t even cover the custom retreat t-shirts we’ll all be sporting but it’s a non-refundable commitment to keep folks from changing their minds after the head count has already gone in for all the food.) 

Robbie & Zach B. at the first Retreat in Orlando, 1991.
Although families have to pay their way there, CCA provides almost all meals to keep your costs down once you arrive.   And as much as a value as it is for your dollar, the intangibles you’ll come away with are “priceless.”

The experience is life-changing for everyone in the family, with “family” being a key word here. Whatever relatives you had when you arrived, you will leave with an extended family whose names and contact info will be listed in your program should you need to reach out to them.

You’ll have a chance to share similar experiences, ideas and problems that you thought no one else on Earth would ever understand.  Every member of the family may make lifelong friends in their counterparts from other families.  And these folks will remain with you in your heart, always.   That goes for Moms, Dads, and siblings as well as your CCA kid. 

My own CCA kid, Robbie, grew up getting to know many people, CCA families he saw year after year at the retreats.  I am confident if he ever found himself lost in a city where one of these families resides, he could call on any of them, like he would a blood relative, for help.

When Robbie and I were with the original ten families that inspired the retreat, our group toured the city we were in together, and nobody seemed to mind the staring from strangers because for the first time we were many and none of us felt singled out or that it was only our child they were looking at…it gave us a sense of power…we had power in our numbers.

Because we’re a majority like that at the retreat instead of the minority that we are at home, we can let our hair down and relax together in that same carefree way.

But, all the relaxing, wonderful memories, smiles and warm fuzzy feelings you and your family will derive from attending are just the frosting on the cake.  What your “affected” child will come away with will “take the cake” and of course your CCA Kid is the main ingredient here. 

What I know personally and what we’ve all witnessed for the last twenty-two retreats is that the retreat makes our kids feel good about themselves, each in their own way.  What more  “priceless” value could you put on something than the smile, the new or renewed self-assurance, true happiness, and what you hear in your child’s remarks once you return home?

This is our most difficult task…describing the retreat experience to anyone who hasn’t been there.  I can only tell you it can be magical.  I will never forget my own child’s words upon returning home each year, “Mom, I’m so lucky.”

Robbie getting his hair cut by retreat families in 2012.

Zach B., now a ballroom dancer/instructor, giving CCA  
Executive Director, Char Smith, a twirl on the dance floor! 

- Jill
Guest Blogger and CCA Development Director, Jill Patterson

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